Activist climbs Seattle tree to stop it from being cut down for housing

Jul 14, 2023, 6:46 PM

An activist climbed up a red cedar in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood Friday in hopes to save it from the saw as the city approved for it to be cut down to make way for a six-unit residential building.

Seattle officials said it’s unlikely the company hired to cut down the tree will get their permit by the end of the day Friday.

More on Seattle trees: City Council passes stronger tree protection ordinance

“There’s a whole network of folks in a beautiful city who care about protecting old trees like this,” the activist, known as “Droplet,” told KIRO 7. “I’ve set up with some friends an occupation of the street to prevent Legacy Group Capital from cutting it.”

Droplet claimed he will stay in the tree until the developer on this project changes their plan to cut the cedar down. He strung a hammock amid the branches while neighbors are bringing him supplies.

“I just want them both to happen concurrently,” Ryan Joyce, one of the activist’s neighbors, told KIRO Newsradio. “We can walk and chew gum at the same time. I think we can develop affordable housing and preserve our natural beauty.”

The city said the tree removal company hasn’t waited out the public notice period yet. The tree is currently listed on Seattle’s list of “exceptional” trees. According to the city of Seattle’s Municipal Code, an “exceptional tree” is “a tree or group of trees that because of its unique historical, ecological, or aesthetic value constitutes an important community resource, and is deemed as such by the Director according to standards promulgated by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.”

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“I spoke with arborists and architects and they’re saying this is happening all the time. The tree ordinance does not protect these trees,” Joyce said. “I thought if it was above a certain diameter, it would be protected and that’s absolutely not the case. If a developer buys a property, they have carte blanche to take down every tree on that property.”

Legacy Group Capital, the developer of the six-unit building, released a statement to KIRO 7 following the activist’s decision to prevent the tree from being cut down:

One of Legacy’s core principles is to facilitate the development of affordable housing, which is in high demand and desperately needed in this region and market. We understand the importance of striking a balance between addressing the housing crisis and being responsible stewards of our natural surroundings. While we are not the owner of this project, we are the lender and assisted the builder in their permitting. We understand the sensitive nature of the tree canopy, we all live in this area and share a collective commitment to the preservation and enhancement of our local environment. Legacy is in the practice of removing trees only when absolutely necessary after careful consideration of the site’s constraints and approval by the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections.

In March, the city of Seattle released the final 2021 Tree Canopy Assessment showing the city has lost 255 acres of tree canopy since 2016 — an approximate 1.7% relative decline in the amount of tree coverage around the city.

More on Seattle trees: City of Seattle has less tree cover than 5 years ago

“The designers actually had original plans that preserve this tree while building the six units they intended to build,” Joyce added. “I think that should be the priority for the city.”

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Activist climbs Seattle tree to stop it from being cut down for housing